A scientific intermission
Doctor Lothaire Baillargeon sighed and propped his fists on his hips, surveying the laboratory. It had taken months to restore the Adaline facility to working order; delays had been numerous and even when supplies and personnel made it on time the journey from Aramantine to Adaline was long. The prototype hybrid engines in the automobiles, using an admixture of synthesised deific fuel and highly refined phantasma were prone to glitches and failure, and the project had yet to synthesise enough faux-deific energy crystals for extended use. The miasma made travelling difficult for obvious reasons but it also caused problems within the facility. Phantasma vapour seeped in everywhere, polluting the air and damaging the instruments. Extractors and catalysers had been mounted to the internal and external walls of the tower but the phantasma had compromised the structural integrity of the building. It was an unavoidable risk of their location, one that had only one solution: the creation of a self-sustaining deific catalyst.
Logistics and safety had not been the only concerns of the project. Baillargeon did not concern himself over much with politics; he was a scientist, such things were trivial distractions. However Arnault, the administrator DeLunde’s faculty head had foisted upon the project had made it his business to bemoan the difficulties he’d faced ensuring Aramant cooperation, even before the first convoy had left for the Steppes. The damnable Aramantine Provost now had pockets heavy with bribes, and, last Baillargeon had heard, the man was still demanding more in return for looking the other way as DeLunde used Aramantine as a staging post for their work in Adaline. Baillargeon had suggested during one of Arnault’s more extensive rants that they might be better off killing the Provost and installing a more amenable man in his stead. It was simple fact that Aramantine and the rest of that piddling country survived only due to the largesse of Emperor Orlenaux. It was galling really how ungrateful and grasping the Aramants could be.
Still these were all concerns of the past. The facility was functional and work had already begun. Baillargeon walked over to the nearest examination table. The man on the table did not stir. The monitors hooked up to measure vital signs reported that he remained stable however Baillargeon remained underwhelmed by this latest batch of test subjects. He checked the clipboard attached to the end of the table. As he feared the latest records showed that the test subject’s rate of decline had inceased since the last phantasma exposure. This was a severe disappointment. This particular test subject: number Thirty-Two, had shown early promise. After the initial symptoms of extreme Phantasma sickness Thirty-Two had begun to exhibit signs of nascent resistence. Physical, mental and ethereal decline had stabilised. Two days ago the first evidence of metaphorsis had been detected, but Baillargeon had remained hopeful. The crystalline growths sprouting from Thirty-Two’s body were not in themselves evidence of imminent failure. Project Pandora’s only successful catalyst had never exhibited physical mutation, true, but the circumstances had been different. Baillargeon had a much harder task to recreate those same results without the aid of a Sereph. He remained convinced that the pre-existing scion bond between Sebastien and the former Seraph Smythion had been pivotal in the creation of a non-maligned, fully functional catalyst.
Baillargeon looked down on Thirty-Two in contempt. The mutations had continued apace, in much the way they had in the previous failed experiments. The man’s face had split alone the seam of his nose, skin tearing apart as crystalline growths sprouted from the bone and cartilage. Blackened veins, protruding under the skin of the man’s forearms, denoted the return of Phantasma sickness. Thirty-Two was yet another failure, though it was possible they would be able to extract useable deific crystals from the body before disposal. It would add to their data to record how long it took for Thirty-Two’s soul to die. So far all their experiments, even the failures, had exhibited a protracted period of ethereal dissolution. None of these wretches came to close to ascending to the status of Pure Souls, but the manner in which the test subjects underwent physical and ethereal mutation was fascinating.
The process of extracting the spirit from the body while maintaining the existence of a living soul had been refined since Director TreLawn’s first experiments upon his son Sebastien. They now knew the exact quotient of phantasma gas to anima vapour required to cause the spirit to detach from the physical body. It was essential to the creation of a successful catalyst to destroy the spirit – the psyche – of the subject. A sense of self was incompatible with the refinement of the soul necessary to create a catalyst and a Pure Soul.
There was no real means of reliable long distance communication out on the Steppes, no mail service and radio waves were disrupted by the miasma, but Baillargeon was confident that soon Sebastien TreLawn would be back in the custody of the DeLunde Institute. Despite the set back with Thirty-two this was something to be celebrated. The return of the first Pure Soul catalyst would push their work forward exponentially. Baillargeon knew so much more about the process now than he had five years ago. He was not the same man he had been then, when Sebastien had escaped the Scarria facility in Valkieres. Baillargeon had lived with the ignominy of blame even though he alone was not responsible. Director Trelawn had always been too lenient, given the boy too much freedom, allowing sentiment to cloud his judgement. Baillargeon may have been in charge on the night Sebastien escaped, but it was the Director who was ultimately at fault. He had continued to treat Sebastien like his son, like a human being, and not as what he was: the catalyst of Project Pandora. A Pure Soul was not a person – the Pure Soul had evolved beyond such a base state. TreLawn’s cosseting, his misguided sentiment, had corrupted their catalyst, infecting the Pure Soul with a detrimental sense of identify and free-will that had nearly destroyed everything Project Pandora worked toward. Baillargeon was already preparing the apparatus for Sebastien’s return. After five years the corrupting influence of self-determination would be entrenced. He would have to eradicate all trace of spirit and self from the boy before they could begin work in earnest.
He would have to work fast. Director TreLawn would be coming here, back to the site of his greatest -albeit accidental – discovery. He would be coming for his son. As much as it pained him to accept it Baillargeon knew that once the Director arrived he would once more be relegated to the sidelines. It did not matter that he had worked tirelessly on the Project in the years since Sebastien’s escape, no matter that his work on the synthesis of deific crystals was without question advanced of anyone else – including the Director – Baillargeon was still denied the respect and recognition he deserved. Word had reached him from the dreadful Marre Noir agent charged with Sebastien’s apprehension that the plan was on track. Baillargeon had to assume that the Director had known before he did that Sebastien was to be returned. (The Director still worked out of Valkieres and they did not lack for reliable forms of communication back in the civilised world). He would just have to hope that the miasma, which had caused such problems in the initial stages of the Project would now work to his advantage and keep the Director from reaching Adaline before Baillargeon was finished returning the Pure Soul to its proper state.
The Director had lost his objectivity. In the years since Sebastien’s escape TreLawn had continued to pioneer work on deific energy and Project Pandora, but he had also started to distance himself from the rest of the DeLunde faculty and the original members of the Project. It was not just Baillargeon who had noticed, Marietta had also voiced her concerns that Project Pandora was becoming too politicised. Instead of a purely scientific venture, led exclusively by the DeLunde Institute Pandora had become, in recent years, the pet project of Theirn Orlenaux -the Emperor’s eldest son and commander-in-chief of the Imperial army. Unlike Marietta, Baillargeon did not care if the Project became a military one – there was definite military potential in deific energy, and in the synthesis of Pure Souls – no, what he objected to was the loss of control and autonomy. The Director behaved as if Project Pandora was his and his alone and he could therefore take the Project in any direction he liked, without consulting the rest of the faculty. Baillargeon intended to do something about that. The rest of his colleagues could not be trusted to speak out. The Director commanded too much respect, and was too close to the Emperor and his son for many to dare question him, let alone act, but Baillargoen, long cast into the shadow for an imagined failing that was not his fault, well, he was ideally placed to wrestle control of the Project back into DeLunde’s hand, was he not?
He would start with Sebastien. He would destroy any trace of the Director’s son and restore the Pure Soul to its perfect form, and he would ensure that the Pure Soul’s loyalty was his and his alone. Not even the support of the Emperor’s son would protect the Director if Baillargeon had the Pure Soul on his side.